Sunday, February 27, 2011


My slippery (or frozen) fingers published this twice -- I just forgot to include the substance. So...

The South Palm Beach lay leaders began a Search for a new CEO. And, only weeks...that's weeks, not months and not over a year...after parting ways with his predecessor, the Federation hired a seasoned fund raiser, one who served on an interim basis when his predecessor was unavailable at JFSPBC, Irv Geffen. Hired someone from the inside, with federation fund raising experience. OMG. Kal ha'kavod to the leadership of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County. And to you, Irv, as well. We are rooting for you and federation's success.

Just think, a federation's lay Board formed a Search Committee, did not hire JFNA Mandel, did not go to an outside headhunter, looked at its own professional staff and promoted one of its own. How retro, how 1980's, how marvelous....too marvelous for words. (Compare this with another Large City whose Chair appointed a Committee without any Board action to ratify the Chair's unilateral decision to extend a sitting CEO's term -- this in a community with an Annual Campaign incapable of supporting that Federation's historic commitments. Inasmuch as this community probably pays its national Dues, JFNA is...silent.)

So, remind the JFSBC lay leadership, we pay $10's of thousands in Dues for....what? #isht, TribeFest, the Daily Media Guide, Sheatufim, rebranding, delivering Yemeni Jews to Monsey, undisclosed overspending on the GA, an undisclosed $2,000,000 in unpaid Dues ...let me count the ways. And, then tell me it's not time for changes, a big changes.


And, just as an aside, as the JFSPBC lights this candle in the federation window, I just want the leaders of JFNA to know that that light you think you see at the end of the tunnel? That's a train rushing towards you.


Thursday, February 24, 2011


I recently Posted about the sad and twisted promotion of JFNA's Heart to Heart Women's Mission (paraphrased "Pssst, come with us and you and only you can buy a beautiful necklace on the cheap...") Don't get me wrong, I applaud JFNA for increasing its Mission programming, just go about marketing national efforts in the right way, consistent with our values and core principles (if any remain).

On the eve of that Post, a FOB forwarded on an invitation for "major donors" to participate on a national High Tech Mission to Israel. Like the old shell game, JFNA has mastered the "now you see it, now you don't" of that con. Some of you may remember when JFNA initiated Blue Knot, a major effort to engage with leaders of North America's high tech entrepreneurs. Seeds were planted for three years, investments were made in the Silicon Valley, at High Tech Conventions, etc. And, then, about four years ago, JFNA just pulled the plug on Blue Knot, leaving the constituencies leaders high and dry. Now, a beautifully framed Mission to Israel is attempted -- one that could have built upon Blue Knot were it still in existence...but, it's not.

I would wager that the national Blue Knot investment over its three years didn't approach one year's investment in #ish.


Monday, February 21, 2011


Yesterday Bruce Arbit, UIA's Board Chair, eulogized his dear friend, Yitzchak Shavit, z'l. Bruce's words were so beautiful and comforting, that I wanted to share them with you:

"As you all know by now, we lost Yitzchak Shavit z'l.
Yesterday was a long and difficult day for all of us.

Tomorrow as we lay him to rest in Netanya may be worse.
The loss of Itzik will be a painful part of our lives forever.
We all knew how ill Itzik was. But, at least for me, in some childish part of my mind,
heroes simply do not die.

And for me Itzik was a super hero.

Itzik dedicated his entire adult life to the service of the Jewish people and the State of
Israel, beginning with is service in Tzahal and then literally building Israel brick by
brick. He was truly a servant of his people.

I spoke to Itzik almost every single day during his sickness, but I never got the chance
to say goodbye. Ben Gurion said that whoever did not believe in miracles was not a
realist. I was sure that Itzik had earned his miracle.

Itzik told me he was ready to go, that he was tired of the struggle, he was sad that his
work was not complete, that there was so much more for him to do. He was worried
for Barbara. He told me he loved me, and thanked me for being "with him" while he
was ill. I told him " אזוב שטויות " "azov shtuyot" – the Hebrew term for "leave out the
nonsense". I guess in the Hebrew speaking side of my personality, I wanted to out
Israeli the Israeli.

I was sure that Itzik's miracle would come. I could not accept Itzik's acceptance of his

I did not understand that Itzik had already received his miracle in the love and
devotion of Barbara Salmanson. Barbara and Itzik's love flourished in the shadow of
Itzik's first bout with cancer and there is a clear sadness in their relationship having
bookends of Itzik's illnesses.

Some people say that if you ask a carpenter how to fix something, he will tell you to
use wood, and if you ask a welder how to fix something, he will tell you to use metal.
If you asked Itzik how to fix something, he would tell you to raise money..
For Itzik was an extraordinarily talented craftsman in the endeavor of his choice.
Itzik was a fundraiser. He was not involved in financial resource development, or
moves management or any of the well defined new science. Itzik was one of an elite
class of journeyman fundraisers.

Itzik would always call me after any major organizational meeting and ask me for the
run down on what happened at the meeting. If he was frustrated by what I shared
with him – he would always respond the same way: "Would you please tell them to
go out and raise some money". Itzik truly believed that if we were all busier raising
money we would not have time for what he considered to be nonsense.

I came to UIA hoping to have another wonderful professional lay partnership, which I
had enjoyed in my other volunteer postings.

I was never Itzik's partner. I was his grateful student. The Mishna teaches us:
חבר" ; רב וקנה ל ; עשה ל " "Aseh lecha Rav u'kneh lecha chaver". "Find yourself a
Teacher and you will have acquired a friend". As the Mishna promised, I found my
teacher and I got a wonderful friend.

We have all lost our teacher. He taught his lessons by his personal example. We
have lost an indefatigable advocate to for the building of strong Israel and a vibrant
Jewish Connection to Israel. We have lost our friend. Yitzchak Shavit.

As we dedicated the Yitzchak Shavit Resource Development Building in Jerusalem,
minutes after Itzik's passing, the sky went dark, the wind howled and winter rain
began to fall.

The light that was Itzik was gone.

The lights of Jerusalem and in all of Israel burned dimmer last night.

All of our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to his beloved Barbara Salmanson; his
sons Adan and Einar; daughters-in-law Nitsan and Inbal; grandchildren Ofri Adan and
Edni; and brothers Gideon Shavit and Yonatan Shtiebel.

May the entire Shavit family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and
Jerusalem and may his memory continue to be a blessing to all who knew and loved

Bruce A. Arbit"

Amen. Thank you, Bruce.


~ I am pretty certain that at the recent JFNA Board Meetings in Orlando, CEO Jerry reduced from 5 to 3 JFNA's "strategic focus areas." These will now be restricted to "Global Jewish Responsibility; Thought Leadership and Idea Generation; and Strengthening Federations." Uh-huh. You are going to be getting "[N]ew efforts (which) will help JFNA provide greater value and measurable results to Federations." Uh-huh. If only it could happen.

~ A Festivus classic. Writing in the Jewish Exponent, highlighted in one of Silverman's Daily Media Guides, is an op-ed: A Modern Day Exodus: Young Flock to TribeFest. Sure. Here is the introductory paragraph: "Next month more than 1,000 Jews from across North America are expected to wander into the desert for three days and nights to discover their personal connection to Judaism. While these modern day descendants of Moses and Sarah will trek by plane, train and automobile to their destination -- the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, their journey is equally important to the future of the Jewish people." OMG!!! What more needs to be said...or written?

~ Our Continental "leaders" decided, based on what other than intuition, G-d knows, that attendance at JFNA Events -- GA, TribeFestivus -- would spike upward if all such Events were convened in the most "attractive" cities. Glitz over substance. So, what happened, New Orleans proved hospitable but attracted far below projections; same with Las Vegas for the Festivus. Maybe, just maybe, as my sorely tested intuition tells me, we need events at more inclusive price points and where substance trumps glitz. But that's not going to happen, is it? All of that could happen in Las Vegas, of course, but just link to the Fest site and see how that venue is being promoted.

~ I have it on good authority that CEO Jerry engineered a $400,000 reserve in the JFNA Budget to deal with potential Dues defaults. Of course, with lay and professionals alike wearing blinders as to those very defaults, the total reached $2,000,000 before application of the reserves (I think -- but the number might be $2.4 million before the application of the reserve resulting in the $2,000,000 figure. With JFNA one has to ask the specific question of someone who might...might...have the answer.) Whether the unpaid Dues number is $1,600,000 or $2,000,000, it is a BIG number with no source for payment.

Here's what happened -- as I have written, several times -- Federation A received its Dues notice, but could not or would not pay more than $X. It so advised JFNA, either seeking a "hardship" finding or a Dues abatement. JFNA determined through its Financial Relations Committee that given the volume of hardship requests, it would grant none...that's none...sent back a promissory note and a "payment plan" (usually with no prior discussion) to Federation A, which ignored it. At some point, a responsible JFNA professional (the Financial Relations Committee was not monitoring the communal circumstances) suddenly noticed the mountain of unpaid deferrals. The rest is history -- in November the JFNA Board (without the necessity of doing so) passed a By-Law Amendment authorizing Deferral Agreements and restating the Draconian consequences of non-payment -- to no effect. Then, after the 18 month build-up of deferrals finally brought the problem to the Budget Committee. The growing financial crisis has yet to be brought to the Board.

The success of our entire institutional structure, chevre, is based on trust -- trust of the donor in the federation; trust of the federations in our continental organization. Given the growing failure of that organization and its leaders to steward our donors dollars entrusted to them, the system becomes increasingly at risk. And still we remain silent.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.

~ Speaking of "greater value and measurable results" -- if your federation has received from JFNA the names and e-mail addresses of real prospects out of the wondrous #ish or Heroes efforts, would you let me know off-line? And if you know how much these "programs" have cost, would you let us all know? Many thanks. There is a chasm between the promise of "measurables" and the reality.

~ The Forward just extolled JFNA on modifying its personnel policies (As JFNA advised us) so as to join the 21st century of corporate America with a "maternity/paternity family leave policy" (that I brought to the law firm I chaired back in 1988). JFNA also implemented a flex-time policy with the JFNA re-brand to "formal flexibilty." (The full article can be found at As Silverman pointed out: "When you're looking at what we stand for, who we are as a people, we really need to walk the talk." Well, Jerry sure knows how to talk the talk, anyway. Sure. Kal ha'kavod and Amen.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

ITZIK, z'l

Yitzchak Shavit passed away today after a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. If you knew Itzik, as so many of us did, you would not have been surprised at the tenacity of his fight against tremendous odds. For in everything that he did, Itzik was a fighter.

At JFNA, Itzik was the "go to" guy for so much -- access to the Prime Minister, sources for funding special projects, and, to the end, for understanding financial resource development, the great good it could do...and how to do it. He was a ferocious protector of what he believed to be his territory, his donors, his Israel Emergency Fund, and his JAFI. Woe unto those who tread upon that diverse turf. But, unlike many of us, Itzik was dedicated always to the goals as he saw them, as he defined them, and he drove himself 24/7 toward the singular objective of tikkun olam, of making this world a place of safety and greater comfort for those of our people most in need.

I was privileged to work side-by-side with Itzik for so many years -- first when I was named UJA Chair when we worked together to build upon what was then the unique projectization of the Jewish Agency's budget -- created by Itzik in a great lay-professional partnership with Chicago's Edgar Cadden, z'l. As UJA Chair I had Itzik's help in naming Jane Sherman as Ed's successor at the IEF -- and Jane and Itzik would form a partnership of great strength from those days forward. I was blessed to have been his lay partner in our work together in the research and drafting of the Resource Development Guidelines that we promulgated, worked through the then UJC bureaucracy (and no one...could work their way through the various bureaucracies he confronted time and again any better than Itzik) only to see them shelved by unthinking leaders of then UJC.

But it was in his work as the Executive Vice-Chair of UIA within JFNA where Itzik demonstrated, time and again his outstanding professionalism. It was a constant juggling act to balance the demands of JFNA leaders with the fiduciary responsibilities of UIA to our system. And all of the time Itzik was raising millions of dollars under the IEF umbrella through the merger, through the uncertainty (and what was perceived as "competition") of JAFI NA, until the end.

As Bruce Arbit, UIA's Board Chair, said today, few have had "...a greater hand in literally building the State of Israel brick by brick." And few had greater pride in achievement.

To his beloved wife, Barbara, and Itzik's beautiful family, know that you are in our thoughts and prayers, as all of us remember this great, dedicated leader.


Friday, February 18, 2011


Today's Post title is my addition to "the check's in the mail," "Drinking? Why no, officer," "I gave at the office" and other statements to fear and disbelieve. What brought this one on, you ask?

Well, I was paying attention at the JanuaryJFNA Board meeting when the North Shore Federation's Shep Remus, serving as the Chair of Global Operations:Israel & Overseas, introduced JFNA's Global Ops Director General, Rebecca Caspi, to present the ("I know it's confusing") "Select Core Priorities" to the gathered Board members. The presentation was not just "confusing," it was also stupefying. Here's the deal -- no matter how much your federation allocates to overseas needs, no matter whether you have increased, decreased or maintained your 2010 core allocation, your federation can reallocate 10% of that allocation to one or more of a set of JDC- or JAFI-defined Select Core Priorities. If the intent was, as the JAFI-JDC leaders stated, to increase federations' Israel-Overseas allocations -- that would be great. But JFNA's leaders, in response to a frustrated federation leader, said: "This is just an interim step. When we have the Global Planning Table up and running, we will have ever greater control with how our federations' allocated dollars are spent." (Or words to that effect.) There you have it.

While JAFI indicated to those assembled that one/the intent of the Select Core Priorities "process" was to increase the total funds to both JAFI and JDC, I heard no one from JFNA echo that hope. Further, there was no indication that a new JFNA/JAFI/JDC advocacy initiative, mandated by the 2010 JFNA/JAFI/JDC Agreement (the "Agreement") has yet to be planned or even given any apparent thought to by JFNA. The JFNA "attitude" (so filled with "attitude") is this: "We'll implement those parts of the Agreement that we care about, the rest...not so much." (An example -- JFNA formed a Work Group/Committee/Sub-Committee (whatever they may call it) on creating a second membership criterion -- a community's capacity allocation for overseas needs. The Committee/Work Group/Sub-Committee's one recommendation to date -- that all allocations be paid through JFNA. Why? "Because, after all, we are JFNA." (While all of this is on-going, JDC has written its Board members advising them that they will be the frontline within their federations to advocate for the Joint's Select Core Priorities.) It's ONAD all over again. As predicted.

JFNA may continue to refer to JAFI and the Joint Distribution Committee as "partners" but someday soon JFNA's leaders will be called upon to act like partners, to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. So far, it has been all talk, no walk, and not just for months, but for years.

I think that by now we know a joke when we hear it.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011


There are so many cliches in the air at 25 Broadway -- a veritable motherlode in fact -- that I believe the cliche is too often a substitute for substance. I thought that I would focus on just two of them:

1. "What got us here, won't get us there." Great line, appropriated by JFNA ostensibly from one of the great Jewish mega-philanthropists of our age orany age. When that philanthropist said it, he probably knew where "here" was and the "there" he was trying to reach. (In reality, the phrase is the title of a book written by Marshall Goldsmith.) I remember well when my beloved White Sox fired a rather successful General Manager of the team because "he got us from Point A to Point B, but we didn't think he could get us to Point C." We understood -- "Point A" was the depths and "Point B" was contention and "Point C" was the World Series. For JFNA (and please forgive me for this) we don't know where "here" is and we don't have a clue where "there" is; until you know the "here," you can't know the "there," can you? At 25 Broadway it's "here, there and everywhere." Five "areas of focus" are now three (and that includes "thought leadership"), but the Budget allegedly supports over 50 separate "programs."

So, just show us where is "here" and then begin to demonstrate that you actually have a concept for "there." I challenge our leaders to name five areas of JFNA activity that they believe represent the federations' (not JFNA's) priorities and how JFNA is striving to meet them.

2. We are going to "...deliver greater value and measurable results." OK, good. What does this mean? Usually followed by...

3. "we are going to do more with less." The reality to date: "we are going to do less with less" and we can prove it..and then we will complain that we don't have more...

4. Everything we will do will be "robust" -- "robust dialogue," "robust debate" -- and then it isn't.

Let me add one of my own: Zero-based thinking starts with no preconceived notions or sacred cows.


It's time to take a look at the "new" JFNA fifteen months into the "new Regime." Unfortunately, there isn't much to report -- there has been a continuum from one Chair to the next and that just hasn't been a good thing -- unless one views a monarchy as good for the Jews. So I decided I would try to penetrate the opaque walls that JFNA has created and take a snapshot of that monarchy so hidden from view.

At JFNA there is an apparent lack of any sense of governing vision or sense of purpose permitted if it conflicts with the Chair's explicit belief that what's good for JFNA is good for everyone; and the Chair has continuously accrued power for its own sake. Instead of empowering others, the Chair chooses to "do it alone" -- mark up the Fair Share Dues Resolution, the Chair does it; draft By-Law Amendments -- the Chair will do it; implement a Global Planning Table without regard for ONAD-type consequences, the Chair will do it; hire that GPT consultant, the Chair will decide; "deal with" JDC and JAFI, the Chair will do it; program the GA, the Chair's job job; revamp the work of the Financial Relations Committee, the Chair will decide; revise the 2010 Cash Summary, redraw the Budget framework, preempt Committee Chairs in the middle of their meetings...etc., etc.

There's not much sharing, if any, going on. David Brooks, in brilliant New York Times Op-Ed piece last year, The Crossroads Nation, offered a conclusion that I wish the Chair could understand: "...creativity is not a solitary process. It happens within networks. It happens when talented people get together, when idea systems and mentalities merge." But, when you need to control everything, it's so hard!! It's hard to make synergy by and with only yourself.

The musician/writer/philosopher Bono has said: "You're as good as the arguments you get." But, this Chair brooks no arguments; she has made it clear that she views contrary opinion as "wasting my time." This is one reason why leaders with aspiration for higher office within JFNA suppress any disagreement with the Chair; they know the consequences.

This Chair has many leadership skills and just a little more than 15 months as Board Chair. Yet, there appear to be no "fixed principles or grand purposes" driving the current regime's leadership. Hope for this leadership fades as JFNA is literally on the brink -- federations failing or refusing to pay full Dues (or the definition of Dues fulfillment modified to fit the "circumstances" as a "deferral"), a belief the Chair has reinforced that "it's all about JFNA...and only about JFNA." And the sad, continuous rejection of history as irrelevant.

And what about the joy of leading, the fun? This leadership has beaten the stuffing out of fun and left it in a small pile in the corner. Never have I seen less evident joy in leadership (unless there is a microphone involved). JFNA has become the Jewish organizational equivalent of the National Football League, the NFL -- the "No Fun League." And, trust me, this Blog is not the proximate cause of the joy void...not by a long shot.

Sadly, when offered the choice of leaders who could serve with the Chair and assist her, she has chosen instead those who would agree. To paraphrase a courageous journalist in Russia who criticized those reporters who collapse in fear of the Putin government instead of doing their jobs, JFNA has become a place where those who know better are no longer fiduciaries " all, but bureaucrats, following the logic of...submission." JFNA is not better for the submission that has taken place there. Some of those that I have watched grow in their leadership who have not decided to move their leadership elsewhere have decided to merely acquiesce to anything and everything that doesn't gore their personal ox so long as they get what they want on "their issues" -- even if "their issues" fail to resonate with any but them. Amcha...what do they matter? What we have seen emerge under the leadership the last six years is what I would characterize as "crony governance;" where our large system is governed by a self-perpetuating oligarchy of cronies. It's both sad and self-destructive. I can't think of a successful federation among the 157 where this form of "cronyism" has been raised to the level of art and artifice. It wouldn't be permitted; but at JFNA it is tolerated and, by federation leaders' silence, encouraged. The social contract between the federation owners and their organization appears to be but a distant memory.

One of my dear friends reminded me that a good fisherman always baits the hook for the fish and not for the fisherman. If this Chair is unable to immediately manifest her leadership for and of all of us, articulate and follow a governing vision that arises out of consultation with the federation owners, it will all be over -- if it isn't already. But, the Chair can't continue to do it alone; or with the smaller and smaller claque of lay leaders and an even smaller group of Federation CEOs who pop in from time-to-time to "save the system" but are less and less willing or able to do so because the work in their own communities is so challenging and because to them, as some have told me, "things are better" -- or so they think.

So, after 15 months -- JFNA refuses to publicly discuss a $2,000,000 Dues shortfall and has no line of credit to assist it; JFNA "inside" leadership is so tightly constricted that the Chair reappointed the New Orleans GA Co-Chairs (who presided over a $583,000 uncovered loss in 2010) to Co-Chair Denver 2011; major programs needed by the federations -- like SCN -- are put at risk while #ish, Heroes and TribeFest move forward; a fortune continues to be spent on JFNA-Global Operations:Israel and Overseas with little or no return; and FRD exists in name only, relegated to roles at infrequent Regional events and at Board meetings to present the work of others and in the Festivus and too little else. And if you want transparency: "let them eat cake."

Time is wasting; in fact, it has been wasted.


Saturday, February 12, 2011


Assume you reside in Federation "A" and sit on its Board. Your Federation is doing some cutting edge programming, in particular for emerging leaders and the young. But you are raising less and less money, year by year. You and your fellow leaders have insisted that Federation cut its Budget. You have replaced your CEO with a younger professional leader from outside the federation system. Your overseas allocations have been cut by almost 50% in a decade. Your Federation Budget as a percentage of campaign has risen to 21% while your CEO is one of the 5 highest paid in our system. Would you sit in silence at your Federation Board meetings or would you speak out in protest?

Sound familiar? It should. We have an organization at 25 Broadway, New York, New York, that collects our money and sends it on. It raises almost (I give the CEO credit for his solicitation efforts) no money. It collected about $30 million in Dues in 2010 out of what appears to be $160 (+/-) million sent by the federations. JFNA's percentage of Dues culled out of its receipts -- 21%...that's 21%. So, for every dollar your federation sends to JFNA, it keeps 21 cents. (In its own calculations, JFNA tells the IRS and Guidestar that it is a cash machine, taking credit for the $800 million raised in the campaigns if your communities and mine. Probably a stretch.) And what does JFNA use those funds for? Check it out.

And, few if any on the JFNA Board are paying attention, let alone care. I submit that your federation would not tolerate a 21% overhead. Not for a minute. But add JFNA's 21% overhead to your federation's overhead -- the result is not a good thing -- unless one can rationalize that you are getting 21 cents of service and program for each dollar you send to 25 Broadway.


This Post was inspired by a Reader's e-mail.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Our Posts on TribeFest (or whatever name JFNA is using today) has "inspired" a spate of Comments including several long pieces from Jewlicious, an inspired, and by its own definitions, totally inclusive outreach effort (among other efforts) to young, unaffiliated Jews. You should read the totality of Comments yourself, but here are the CliffNotes:

~ The organized Jewish community hasn't a clue as to how to reach the next generations -- generations being reached by, among others, jewlicious, g-dcast and Challah for Hunger.

~ "Young Jews...look towards their peer group for direction because the traditional 'major teachers, leaders and role models' have proven over and over again how terribly clueless they are."

~ Jewlicious will "...put on a kick ass Festival" that will attract "1,200 young Jewish adults" later this month. (And we are not referring to TribeFest.)

~ While it is evident by the language of the Comments that Jewlicious dislikes criticism (and has interpreted fair comment reflecting on the communities' failures as criticism of Jewlicious) almost as much as JFNA, its leaders are willing to engage, discuss and respond, unlike what one of its interns called "JayEffEnAy." (So much for branding.)

~The organized Jewish community is tone deaf and knows nothing (or almost nothing).

David Abitbol, the founder of Jewlicious offered the same bottom line that I, a young leader decades passed, would: "...the situation today is so different, so perilous it literally keeps me up at night. How did we get to this point? How did our continued community vitality become so imperiled? We could try to contemplate these questions -- and we do. But, in the meantime, we're working like the dickens to do something about it with what little resources we have at our disposal." This in a Comment in which David offered to meet to share and learn. How refreshing; how unusual -- words we never...never...hear from the leaders of JayEffEnAy.

No one would argue with the conclusion that Jewlicious has been an effective instrument for learning and inclusion. If its leaders have missed one of my points, JayEffEnAy would have been far better served by partnering with Jewlicious rather than, once again, attempting to remake the wheel in the form of TribeFest.

To Jewlicious, continued success; to JayEffEnAy, any success, some success, please.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011


The JFNA Budget and Finance Committee met on Sunday afternoon January 30 -- I'll ignore the fact that the Board Chair preempted the Committee Chair in the midst of the meeting; that can't surprise anyone anymore. I was contacted by several Committee members over the past days who expressed that they are fed up with the lack of transparency, with an attitude that "the buck stops there." All of us should be fed up. Here's what surprised..make that as it should you.

1. Even as a majority of the Committee members were participating by phone, they were denied access to the materials being reviewed at the meeting by those present in Florida. "Confidentiality." Huh? Board members and federation leaders can't see the materials distributed at a meeting of Board members and federation members and Committee members because, apparently, "leadership" fears that other Board members and federation leaders might get their hands on them or, even worse, the press or "bloggers" might? Were the details of the information to remain a secret available only to those who shlepped to Florida? (And, given that their concerns were about "outliers" seeing the Budget materials, clearly this "leadership" would have preferred that no one see them, let alone discuss them.) What was in those materials that this "leadership" didn't want to see the light of day?

2. Well, one answer: the New Orleans General Assembly exceeded Budget by $253,000; the Lion of Judah Conference exceeded Budget by $275,000. And revenues from the GA fell $55,000 under Budget. Thus, the federations are the hook for <$583,000>... that's FIVE HUNDRED EIGHTY THREE THOUSAND wonder this "leadership" wanted to keep it a secret. Except they have to find the money. Might the shortfall be covered out of JFNA's Budget? C'mon. Get real. Anyway, it's not JFNA's fault -- apparently these deficits are being blamed on the JFNA's conference coordinator or "others"...because this "leadership" is not accountable for things that ever go wrong.

Yet, the facts remain. Perhaps, JFNA could not control registration income. Even if a GA Co-Chair foolishly predicted to me that there would be 4,000 GA registrants (and it appears there were at most 2,800), had there been the GA would still have required more in the way of sponsorships and other income. I recall in the planning days of the 2002 GA, Sonny Plant, z'l, then the JFNA Treasurer and I spoke daily to assure that income and expense would result in a break-even. In NO, where was that monitoring? But a $55,000 income shortfall is a manageable amount. The one thing that JFNA could control was cost. But, for costs to exceed budget by more than one-half million more than $500,000... is inexcusable, pure and simple.

3. And worse. The federations Dues "deferrals" (you remember, that is JFNA jargon for "unpaid Dues") were disclosed to be in excess of $2,000,000. Initially some JFNA chacham reported that this amount is "collectible" (remember, these Dues are unpaid because federations either couldn't or wouldn't pay). And, that conclusion is ridiculous. For several years this leadership has consistently asserted to you and to me that "...there are no Dues issues." This $2,000,000 shortfall is both real and growing. Could this be blamed on the conference coordinator, as well; not the fault of JFNA "leadership." Never the fault of this "leadership." How could it possibly be? Now we learned that JFNA's leadership believes the non-payment issues can be resolved by early notice to the federations of their annual Dues obligations; not by changing the way in which JFNA does business, not by changing JFNA from irrelevant to relevant but by "rebranding." How specious.

And, none of this was disclosed to the Federation leadership at the Board meeting. While the Board Chair extolled the Treasurer's devotion to "transparency," these serious and devastating Budget issues were hidden behind the accolades. Is this any way to run a business? Particularly a Jewish business? We are talking about --- make that "we are not talking about" -- a $2,583,000 shortfall in Dues and GA expenses and JFNA income. This "leadership" is dedicated to talking about transparency while having none of it.

It is time for the Dues-paying federations to assume responsibility for the organization. JFNA must be placed in a federation trusteeship with leadership by federation lay leaders dedicated to a serious reexamination of JFNA purposes, programs, functions, income and costs. And this trusteeship must be imposed now. For, now we have learned that the GA is a disaster in the amount of $583,000? But, that's not the fault of this "leadership." Federations Dues shortfalls over $2,000,000? Not the fault of this "leadership." This "leadership" is not accountable and won't be until JFNA's major funders demand accountability; the same accountability they must deliver in their own communities. When will that happen? Probably won't -- because "they are doing the best they can." "They are doing the best that they can." Indeed.

While there are those lay leaders who serve on the Budget and Finance Committee who see significant signs of positive change and a new commitment to "transparency" and truth-telling; I just don't see it. I hope they are right and I am wrong. But, first, this has been a leadership determined to rob JFNA of its past. That was bad enough. Now, absent intervention, it is robbing JFNA of any future. This is a group pne of whose mantras is "you're not JFNA." While they are wrong, they are enabling those referenced to wear the insult as a badge of pride.


Sunday, February 6, 2011


Anonymous Commentators have provided significant and interesting facts about TribeFest that we should all reflect upon. Of course none of the insights have come from within JFNA where the Commentator focused on my age. But, one thing has become very clear -- the idea for this Festivus grew, with no attribution, out of a series of annual weekends convened by Jewlicious -- lock, stock and barrel.

The Jewlicious Festival completed its Sixth iteration last February. Rather than encourage Jewlicious (which has no doubt been referred to inside JFNA variously as "our partner" or "those young adults") with funding assistance or actually "partnering" in the event, the chachams at 25 Broadway sought to coopt the event, rebrand it, repackage it and reprice it. "If it's not broken, break it" seems to be the model.

Instead of being held at the Long Beach JCC, as Jewlicious was, where some participants pulled out their sleeping bags in the gym, JFNA announced "we're going to Vegas" and we'll be staying at the "fabulous Mandalay Bay" (with suite discounts and paying a lot of money, eating and drinking and "networking." Instead of talent like Matisyahu (a constant presence at Jewlicious Festivals and comedians involved with the Daily Show, JFNA has...Mayim Bialik and others. And in an obvious attempt to coopt Jewlicious, JFNA scheduled Festivus March 6-8 to directly compete with Jewlicious whose Festival is and has been set for February 24-27. (For more, see

We have all been reading a lot lately about schoolyard bullies. Well, here you have the big bully that is JFNA yelling at grassroots Jewlicious "we have decided this is going to be our schoolyard -- get out of it." It's all so shameful -- and JFNA has done even more to distance our organizations from the grassroots we have been trying to attract.

It's that old Murphy's Law -- make that JFNA's Law.


Saturday, February 5, 2011


In an article in The New York Times (January 9, 2011) on the lack of transparency at American law schools, the Dean of the Indiana University Law School observed that " schools have a moral obligation to tell the truth about themselves." If it's right for law schools, my friends, isn't it all the more so for our Federations and their national organization, the Jewish Federations of North America?

But, what we see is all too often an attitude that donors, Board members and even officers all too often are held to be on a "need to know basis" -- and the "need" is to be determined by a given chief professional and a very small group of lay leaders. Some examples? At JFNA, the immediate past CEO thought it so important to bring a small number of Yemenite families to Monsey, New York, that he engaged in a one-man crusade initially (eventually, with no Board or Executive Committee authorization the then Board Chair and Executive Committee Chair [now the Board Chair] joined in a direct solicitation) -- first, attempting to shame the federations he contacted (with no governance action let alone approval) into funding an alleged $8 million cost (with no budget) he asserted that a failure to fund would discredit all of federations' social welfare obligations. The budget was reduced to $3 million in that request from the then Chairs and that CEO. Ultimately, the federations coughed up a little over $630,000 with no public accounting of either the funding or the monitoring of the condition of the, I think it was, 17 families who were induced to New York.

The federations themselves took deserved pride in raising $410 million in the Israel Emergency Campaign. But never to this date, some 5 years after the fact, have the federations themselves accounted for that total -- how much was collected, how much was sent to JFNA, how much was ultimately transmitted to our partners and what was done with the funds that never made it to JFNA, JAFI or Joint? And, JFNA hasn't the institutional courage to even ask let alone account.

For years it has been clear to some of us that JFNA was "borrowing" without accountability from federation overseas allocations to cover it own Budget. It seemed obvious -- approximately 85% of allocations are paid in December of each year whereas by December 1, JFNA has expended 11/12 of its calendar year budget. Unless JFNA were printing money, or its budgeted expenses were covered by manna from heaven, the funding had to be coming from somewhere -- and JFNA was not bank borrowing to cover its own costs. It turns out that the "borrowing" was from UIA income -- income earned by UIA assets to benefit JAFI. But, whatever the source,t at JFNA denial was the order of the day. Professionals and a succession of Budget and Finance Chairs issued annual denials not only to gadflies but to federation CEOs who asked. When the truth finally emerged this November, some six years, at least, after the practice began, it was only because the federations' Dues deficits had grown so large, and the organization's banks had refused to renew the JFNA line of credit, that year-end "true up" was no longer possible. Some at JFNA have apologized to those to whom they misrepresented the facts over the years; most have just gone about their "business" failing to acknowledge that it's our business.

And, just days ago, the JFNA Board was not told that JFNA is in a $2.6 million dollar hole -- $583,000 from a failure to raise enough money for the GA and a failure to control costs there and at the LOJE New Orleans event; and another $2,000,000 in unpaid "deferred" Dues. No, to disclose that would be too painful a truth-telling and interfere with the Chair's agenda-- that's none of our business.

These examples are but the tip of an ugly, deep and jagged iceberg. But, it's none of our business.

Friends, we have let this happen. We have entrusted the people's business to those who believe that it's their business and none of ours. Those who believe so must this business reshaped to meet with the reality we face.


Thursday, February 3, 2011


For the January JFNA Board Retreat, JFNA over the Board Chair's signature flooded the Internet with documents in preparation for the Board Meeting. One was of special interest -- TRIBEFEST: A MARKETPLACE OF IDEAS. I have a strong sense that this piece was prepared in response to the criticism from quarters other than this Blog about the lack of purpose for the Festivus. The title alone is filled with such pomposity, pretension and self-congratulation as to merit analysis for substance.

Let's start with the reference in the Board Chair's transmittal of the document: it's the "Young Adult Strategy Document." Not satisfied with NextGen or NowGen or the other misnomers, now it has become "Young Adults" ... and that's so unfortunate inasmuch as most dictionary definitions find "young adullts" to be defined as those between 12 and 18 years old. Whatever became of the admonition "know your audience?"

Did I learn anything from this Primer for Professional and Lay Leaders (JFNA's pretension 2)? Sure: JFNA now has a Development Affinities Department (pretension3?) and I have to admit I don't know what that is -- but clearly it has something to do with restating the obvious (the next generation of federation donors and leaders is hard to engage) and relying on Jack Wertheimer's excellent research into ths engagement of "Leaders in their Twenties and Thirties" almost entirely for their conclusions -- with a number of which I am pretty confident Wertheimer would disagree.

To JFNA, Festivus is one of a number of "...meaningful and content-driven programs" for "young adults" -- it is apparently just disguised as a Las Vegas party so as to "...(find) new ways for the message to resonate with them." (Oy vey!!) TribeFest:Vegas is, after all, the Opening Event of Strategy. Please raise your hands if you believe that the "strategy" came first, followed by TribeFest as opposed to the reverse. You might guess that I believe the "strategy" is no more than an after the fact rationalization for a party gone bad from the get-go. And, you would be right.

Then there is an amazing set of definitions of activities for the TribeFest event itself -- apparently if you call a "plenary," the "Main Stage," or rebrand the "Exhibit Hall" the "Big Show" (where "heavy hors d'oeuvres [sic]" will be served), it will make all the difference to the intended audience. Then "there will be blocks of time dedicated to 'sessions' (will not be called traditional 'breakout sessions or forums')..." Friends, I am not making this up -- and the paragraph is titled "Side Stage Breakout Sessions" and, later, yep, "Breakout Sessions."

I could go on but you get the idea -- now it is variously titled TribeFest, TribeFest: Las Vegas or TribeFest: Journey in the Desert or, of course, Tribefest: A Marketplace of Ideas -- but, whatever it's called, it remains, as one of our Commentators called it "trivializing the already trivial." It demeans its very target audience by suggesting that the attraction of Las Vegas trumps the need for real substance -- it is the tail wagging the dog. It is, sadly, as it has been since its conception, such a waste. Even if 1,800 "Young Adults" show up (at sharply reduced Registration costs and a subsidy), is this a success?


P.S. A Friend of the Blog forwarded on to me a TribeFest "tweet" which announced that Mayim Bialik...yes, her...will speak at the Festivus. Now I am pretty excited -- although I think that Ms. Bialik may be outside the demographic -- Mayim had a small role (and she has appeared in any number of TV series, I guess) as a Funkhauser on my favorite show, Curb Your Enthusiasm. If the organizers keep this up, they will soon announce Henry Winkler as MC,.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


~ You are probably sick of hearing about the depths reached in the promition of TribeFest -- but maybe a promotion of a Fest subsidy by one Large City Federation shows that the system has hit bottom. Writing about Festivus, this Federation describes the event in Las Vegas as the place "where 1,800 Heebsters from Federations around the country are expected to get their Jew on." Can this get any worse, my friends? Every time I think that the depths can get no deeper -- they do.

~ A reader, a terrific federation professional, reminded me, in light of our DERELICTION Posts, that now have the strange circumstance of the JFNA headhunter operation placing many from outside the federation system into Federation CEO positions. Then, this professional pointed out, for a variety of reasons, a number of federations have hired Executive Search firms (at great expense I can tell you from personal experiences) to seek out new CEOs. In one classic case, a Large City first engaged JFNA Mandel to search for its new CEO, after at least one year of futility, JFNA Mandel was discharged, an Executive Search firm hired and for what was no doubt a significant fee, that Executive Search firm placed a sitting federation CEO in the position. Ironic? Nope -- just the "new paradigm." (Postscript: Mandel JFNA has been engaged for the Northern New Jersey CEO Search.)

~ If you want to get a snapshot of waste, hit the website and link to the User's Guide To Israel Office of the JFNA. There you will discover how JFNA spends your money as if it were their own. In the "Executive Office" you will find not only the "Director General" but an Assistant Director "Strategic Initiatives," and an Executive Assistant. You will discover that the Israel Office requires a Director of Communications and an Assistant (apparently to prepare the now Media Guide and take pictures of the Director General). Four professionals in Finance and Administration (in addition to UIA's professionals who are responsible for assuring that our allocations to JAFI are properly applied) -- these include an IT Manager and an Office Manager. In the "Program and Planning Area" are a mishmash of federation representatives, an area Partnership 2000 "Director" and the Director of Program and Planning -- 8 more professionals. OK, I count 28 people -- why? What is JFNA doing for the federations in Israel? How big an empire is being constructed there? And...why? I am all for full funding of programs and offices that demonstrate a return on investment. Tell me where I can find that ROI in JFNA-Israel?

~ I admit to being more than a little confused by JFNA -- as usual. After a comprehensive and daunting presentation of SCN (The Security Community Network) to the JFNA Board last Monday, Jerry Silverman seemed to suggest that SCN's federation financial support was waning. Jerry (admittedly it's hard to determine from his presentation), to his credit, said that SCN was critical enough to the Jewish community that JFNA would, if the federations so desired, absorb the SCN cost in its budget in large measure -- at least enough to cover the shortfall. Eloquent testimonials from Chicago, Hartford and other federations attested to the criticality of the need. John Ruskay noted that SCN should not be another of JFNA's multiple "asks" -- although he asserted it far better than my shorthand. Now, we'll see if JFNA will (or can) separate its chaff (#ish, Tribefest anyone?) from the wheat of a SCN.

~ Is JFNA short of leadership...or what? (This is a rhetorical question. The answer is "yes...and we like it that way.") The Board Chair gleefully announced on Monday that Judy and Steve Silverman, after the great job they did in Chairing the New Orleans GA, would serve again as the National Co-Chairs of the 2011 Denver GA. Judy and Steve may have been the best Chairs the GA ever had -- that's not the point. Yes, Kathy Manning and Joe Kanfer chaired successive GA's -- a fact occasioned, at least in part, by the forced resignation of the national Chair of the LA GA. that point in time never had a person (or couple) chaired successive General Assemblies. This honor (which is also a job) should be the opportunity to expand leadership, not further constrict it. Manning and Silverman could have just looked around -- here are a few suggestions -- Arlene Kaufman and Sandy Baklor, Lori and Steve Klinghoffer, LA's Richard Sandler or Stan Gold, Chicago's Midge Perlman or Lynn and Skip Schrayer, so many possibilities from New York UJA, and so many more from around the Continent...women and men of incredible generosity and outstanding leaders...but our leaders don't get it. It's a shame that "leadership" doesn't understand...or, maybe, doesn't care.

~ I am not a big reader of the Comic Sections in our nation's newspapers, but on a rainy Sunday morning in Napa, I was leisurely reading the San Francisco Chronicle where Dilbert appears in the Business Section. It struck a chord, see if you find that chord, as well, as Ruth and Dilbert dialogue:

"Gilbert, your boss asked me to get your input on this."

"Absolutely, Ruth."

Dilbert reviews the Document. "We have two options for wasting our time here."

"Option One: I could tell you all of the things you should change, and you could ignore me as usual."

"Option Two: I could lie, and tell you that everything is perfect."

Ruth responds: "I prefer the lie. That way I can pin some blame on you if things go bad."

"Excellent choice. It's faster, and I can later say I was misinterpreted."

"Okay then, I declare that your document is perfect, under a certain set of assumptions that I won't list."

Boss shows: "Did you help Ruth?" Dilbert: "I could say yes. But it's sort of a gray area."